iFi DAC and Amp Buyer's Guide

iFi produces a broad range of DACs, Amps, and DAC/Amp combos with prices ranging from $130 to $2750. While there’s a range of sizes, form factors, and features across the full range, each is built to iFi’s exacting standards, and provides you with iFi’s signature musical tuning.

iFi Product Lines

iFi breaks down their products into a few different lines which may seem to be a little confusing at first, but become more intuitive once you see the reasoning behind it.

First there are the different product lines.

Nano is iFi’s entry level portable product line.
Zen is iFi’s entry level desktop line.
Micro is the next step up from Nano with more features and more advanced sound processing.
Pro are iFi’s top of the line flagship desktop products

 

Within each linen you general have two types of products

DSD products are DAC/Amp Combos.

CAN products are Amps.

There are also a couple products that don’t conform to every aspect of the naming scheme, like the hip-dac (which should, technically, be the “hip-dsd” but that’s not as catchy) and NEO iDSD.

iFi Technology

iFi has a number of different technologies that they build into their various products, or – in some cases – sell separately.

Xbass/Xbass+ is an analog circuit that provides a subtle elevation in the lower frequencies that helps fill out the sound of some “bass-light” headphones and IEMs.

TrueBass is similar to XBass, but has a response that’s closer to a traditional BASS BOOST button.

iEMatch allows you to adjust the impedance to accommodate more sensitive IEMs. If you hear a low hiss when you plug in IEMs, iEMatch can eliminate it.

PowerMatch is the opposite of iEMatch. If your higher impedance over-ear headphones aren’t getting enough power, PowerMatch matches the impedance to improve the output.

3D+ is a crossfade matrix, which adds a little bit of the left channel into the right channel, and a little bit of the right channel into the left channel to provide a more natural sense of space, and more closely simulate the way music is delivered from speakers rather than headphones.

S-Balanced is an amplification strategy that enables amps to provide the same level of voltage through balanced and unbalanced outputs

iFi Products

At Bloom Audio, we don’t carry every single product in iFi’s catalog, but we do carry a large selection of their products across multiple product lines. Here’s a breakdown of iFi’s current lineup.

hip-dac - $149.99

iFi hip-dac

The hip-dac is your entry point into iFi’s portable products. It’s a DAC/Amp combo which features a smooth sounding output and iFi’s XBass+ and PowerMatch technology built in. The design looks a bit like a classic hip flask, which is where it got its name, but please don’t try to fill it up with your favorite beverage.

The hip-dac has 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced output headphone output, with the only input being digital in via USB. It also has separate USB ports for charge and playback to help isolate the circuits and reduce noise and interference.

iFi hip-dac

In terms of power output, it provides 3.2V of power from the unbalanced output and 6.4V for balanced which is a very solid output, and sufficient for driving a wide range of over ear headphones.

nano iDSD Black Label - $199

nano iDSD Black Label

The nano iDSD Black Label is another portable product with some similarities to the hip-dac, but it provides a slightly different feature set. I should also note that while the device’s name is “Black Label” the entire nano iDSD is black, and not just the label. While the hip-dac provides XBass+ and PowerMatch, the nano iDSD provides iEMatch, which provides for a different use case. The nano iDSD also provides basic DAC filter selection with the “Measure/Listen” switch, which provides either a more accurate output with “Measure” or a warmer more musical output with “Listen”

For output, the nano iDSD only has unbalanced output for headphones, but it also has a 3.5mm line out. For input, like the hip-dac, it’s digital only via USB with separate USB ports for charge and playback.

nano iDSD Black Label

For power output, the nano iDSD’s unbalanced output produces a maximum of a 3.5V, which will power any IEMs, and a range of dynamic or easy-to-drive planar magnetic headphones.

ZEN DAC - $129.99

iFi ZEN DAC

The ZEN DAC is iFi’s entry level desktop DAC. While the name says “DAC” it also functions as a headphone amp, though for best results you’ll want to pair it with the ZEN CAN. The ZEN DAC has a TrueBass switch, and if you’re using the built-in headphone amp, you can also turn on PowerMatch.

The outputs on the ZEN DAC are a bit more robust than in the hip-dac or nano iDSD. For headphone outputs, you have 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced. Then for an analog line out you have standard RCA and balanced 4.4mm line out. For input you still just have USB.

iFi ZEN DAC

The power output for the headphone amp is a maximum of 3.3V for unbalanced, and 6.2V for balanced, providing a similar level of juice as the hip-dac.


ZEN CAN - $149.99

iFi ZEN CAN

The ZEN CAN is the amp for the ZEN line. Designed to be paired with the ZEN DAC, you can also run it with any number of other DACs or even just directly out of any source with an analog output. ZEN CAN has a Xbass+ and 3D+ switch which allows you to toggle one or both on and off through a single switch. It also features four levels of gain selection.

ZEN CAN features 3.5mm balanced, 4.4mm unbalanced, and RCA input. For output, you have 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced headphones outs, as well as a 4.4mm balanced line out. ZEN CAN’T take any kind of digital input since it’s just an amp with no DAC.

iFi ZEN CAN Back

The power output for ZEN CAN is a maximum of 7.6V unbalanced and 15.1V balanced, providing enough power to drive virtually any headphone that you can think of. The gain selection also enables you to switch between sensitive IEMs and high impedance headphones with the press of a button.

micro iDSD Signature - $649.99

iFi micro iDSD Signature Front

The micro iDSD line has included several iterations with the most recent being the micro iDSD Signature DAC/Amp Combo. It’s a portable unit with a ton of features packed into a small package. The Signature comes with three gain stages (Eco, Normal, and Turbo), selectable DAC filters, and a built-in iEMatch.

iFi micro iDSD Signature Side

For input, you have USB and a flexible port which can accommodate optical or digital coax with the appropriate adapters. For output, you have unbalanced 6.3mmm (with an 3.5mm adapter included) and balanced 4.4mm, with RCA line outs.

iFi micro iDSD Signature Back

For power, it does a maximum of 10V with Turbo mode, but power always comes at a cost, and you’ll significantly cut your battery life running in Turbo mode. The micro iDSD Signature uses iFi’s “S-Balanced” technology which provides the same output level through both the balanced and unbalanced outputs. The RCA output is line level.

NEO iDSD - $699

iFi NEO iDSD Front

The NEO iDSD is a desktop DAC/Amp Combo which sits just above the micro iDSD line in terms of price. The NEO provides a simple interface with capabilities like full MQA decoding and Bluetooth streaming in a great sounding, capable DAC/Amp. Unlike most of the other devices in iFi’s line, there are no controls for things like gain control or XBass. You would have thought that NEO would have the 3D+ Matrix, but I guess it’s not the One.

The NEO iDSD has a selection of digital inputs: USB, optical, and digital coax. For output, you have unbalanced 6.3mm (with a 3.5mm adapter in the box), and balanced 4.4mm. On the back, you can output via balanced XLR or RCA if you wish to connect the DAC/preamp output to an external amp.

iFi NEO iDSD Back

The headphone power output is a maximum of 3.3V unbalanced and 6.2V balanced. The line out provides 7.7V max via XLR and 3.2V via RCA.

iDSD Diablo

iFi iDSD Diablo

Diablo promises next level performance for iFi's micro iDSD line. It lacks many of the features fof the micro iDSD Siganture, but provides more robust sound processing capabilities, and a higher level of power through its fully balanced outputs.

iFi iDSD Diablo

For input, you have USB and a flexible port which can accommodate optical or digital coax with the appropriate adapters. For output, you have unbalanced 6.3mmm (with an 3.5mm adapter included) and balanced 4.4mm, and a balanced 4.4mm line out (a 4.4mm to dual XLR cable is included).

iFi iDSD Diablo

For power, it does a maximum of 19.2V through the balanced output in Turbo mode, and 9.6V unbalanced. Like the micro iDSD Signature, you’ll significantly cut your battery life running in Turbo mode. The balanced 4.4mm output is line level.

 

Pro iDSD - $2499/$2749

iFi Pro iDSD Front

The Pro iDSD is iFi’s top-of-the-line desktop DAC/AMP combo, which provides everything but the kitchen sink in one unit. There’s tube and solid state amps which you can choose between (and a Tube+ mode which further enhances the Tube output), as well as selectable DAC filters, and gain selection. The Pro iDSD can also be used with the MUZO player app to stream music from a network source, or playback music from a connected hard drive or SD Card.

The Pro iDSD has an unbalanced 6.3mm headphone out, and can be purchased with either a 4.4mm balanced ($2749) or a 2.5mm balanced ($2499) output. On the back of the unit, you have a bunch more options. For inputs, you have Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, digital coax, XLR, and BNC. And for outputs you have RCA and balanced XLR.

iFi Pro iDSD Back

The headphone output is S-Balanced, so you get a maximum of 11.2V through either the balanced or unbalanced headphone jack, but balanced is recommended for the best possible performance. The XLR and RCA outputs have switchable output levels to be used with either HiFi (consumer) or Pro setups. In HiFi mode, XLR outputs at 4.6V and RCA outputs at 4.3V. In Pro mode, XLR outputs at 11.2V and RCA outputs at 5.2V

Pro iCAN - $1799

iFi Pro iCAN Front

The Pro iCAN is iFi’s top-of-the-line desktop AMP. Like the Pro iDSD it provides a choice between tube or solid state output with a Tube+ mode. It also provides multiple levels of XBass+ and 3D+. It also has a three level gain selector. iFi warns that with the right combination of settings, the Pro iCAN can provide levels of power and bass boost that may be hazardous to your health or your headphones.

For input/output, things get a little weird. The headphone outputs include 2 combination 3-pin XLR/6.3mm jacks which can be used together as a single balanced output with a split cable or separately to run either one set of headphones or even two simultaneously.  It also has 3.5mm balanced and unbalanced jacks with iEMatch built in. On the back, there are balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs to go along with the balanced XLR input and three RCA inputs. There are also some other connections including the ability to connect external modules created by iFi, like one that adds an energizer for Electrostatic headphones.

iFi Pro iCAN Back

For power output, honestly, just try to not blow out your eardrums or your drivers: this amp goes up to 11. The Pro iCAN can exceed 23V balanced, and 11V unbalanced. If the iCAN can’t power your headphones, then they’re probably not what you would consider conventional headphones.

The Bottom Line

iFi offers a large range of products to meet a variety of needs, from a simple desktop setup, or a portable headphone amp to connect to your phone, to the central point for a networked whole house hi-fi audio solution. Somewhere in there you should be able to find just the thing to meet your personal audio needs.


Device Type

Price

Digital Inputs

Analog Inputs

Outputs

Max Output Voltage

MQA Support

What makes it special?

hip-dac

Portable DAC/Amp combo

$149.99

USB

N/A

Headphone:
3.5mm, 4.4mm

3.2V/6.4V

MQA Renderer

Great balance of convenience, price, and quality

nano iDSD

Portable DAC/Amp combo

$199

USB

N/A

Headphone:
3.5mm standard, 3.5mm iEMatch

Line: 
3.5mm

3.5V

MQA Renderer

Built-in iEMatch makes it a great choice for portability with sensitive IEMs

ZEN DAC

Desktop DAC/Amp combo

$129.99

USB

N/A

Headphone:
6.3mm, 4.4mm

Line:
RCA, 4.4mm

3.3V/6.2V

MQA Renderer

Great value in a small footprint desktop DAC

ZEN CAN

Desktop Amp

$149.99

N/A

RCA, 3.5mm, 4.4mm

Headphone:
6.3mm, 4.4mm

Line:
4.4mm

7.6V/15.1V

N/A

Tons of power in an itty-bitty package at a low price

micro iDSD Signature

Portable DAC/Amp Combo

$649

USB, Optical, Digital Coax

N/A

Headphone:
6.3mm, 4.4mm

Line:
RCA

10V S-Balanced

MQA Renderer

Incredible versatility and sound quality in a portable package

NEO iDSD

Desktop DAC Amp Combo

$699

USB, Optical, Bluetooth, Digital Coax

N/A

Headphone:
6.3mm, 4.4mm

Line:
XLR, RCA

3.3V/6.2V

Full MQA Unfolding

Bluetooth and Full MQA Unfolding in a simple, accessible, convenient package

iDSD Diablo

Portable DAC/Amp Combo

$899

USB, Optical, Digital Coax

N/A

Headphone:
6.3mm, 4.4mm

9.6V/19.2V

MQA Decoder/span>

A no frills powerhouse, with a reference tuning.

Pro iDSD

Desktop DAC/Amp Combo

$2499/ $2749

USB, Optical, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Ethernet,  Digital Coax, EAS XLR, BNC

N/A

Headphone:
6.3mm, 3.5mm, 4.4/2.5mm

Line:
XLR, RCA

11.2V

Full MQA Unfolding

Solid state and tube amp in one unit with incredible versatility and TOTL sound quality

Pro iCAN

Desktop Amp

$1799

XLR, 3x RCA

Headphone:
6.3mm, 3.5mm, XLR Balanced, 6.3mm Balanced, 3.5mm Balanced

Line:
XLR, RCA

11V/23V

N/A

An incredibly powerful headphone amp, with many options available for unusual and niche headphone configurations